As we continue through the first Premier League season without Luis Alberto Suárez Díaz since 2011, there is the distinct feeling that a void has emerged. The PFA Players’ Player of the Year departed the Northwest of England to relax in sunny Spain while his four month ban for gnawing on Italy’s Chiellini at the World Cup was drawing out, and it marked the end of his love affair with the English top flight.
The start to Suarez’s career at Barcelona was a slow one and has very much been modelled around the fact that he has promised not to break any more rules and more specifically, not to bite people. I agree it is slightly odd that someone has to promise not to do this, but this is what makes Suarez such a spectacle. In occasional ill-advised attempts to show their “aggressive” side, many footballers go head-to-head, many connect with a slap and others push their opponents over (I know, such naughty boys!) but very, very few will use their teeth as the first line of defence. One time could be an accident or a momentary lapse of sanity, twice is a freak occurrence but we can still hope that there is no trend going on, but thrice…words fail me.
As soon as Suarez infamously “fell onto Chiellini” during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, football fans around the globe were appalled, calling for the Uruguayan to be hanged from the nearest lamppost for bringing such dishonour to the beautiful game. But, over time, that volatility has become something a lot of English football fans have craved.
In return for the departure of Luis Suarez in the summer, the Premier League was given a treat, a hub for controversy and the kind of player who brings volatility like no other, the human equivalent of a dodgy nuclear power station if you will; Super Mario Balotelli. The only player in the world who could match the Uruguayan for the entertainment factor off the pitch was back and fans up and down the country rejoiced. Half way through the season, it has transpired that the Italian is a reformed character and has promised, much like Suarez that he will stay out of trouble! The excitement fades like a painting that has been left in the sun for too long.
The most important difference between Balotelli and Suarez is that in the few moments when they were not causing a stir, Suarez treated the fans to breath-taking football, unrivalled enthusiasm and a multitude of goals; Balotelli simply does none of these.
Many top class Premier League legends have had a mean streak, and the nation has embraced them for it. Be it Cantona’s karate kick at Palace, Di Canio’s push on referee Paul Alcock, or Tevez’s golfing trip, the top players can get away with it in the eyes of the fans, because they are the best. The truth is that these incidents are legendary throughout the Premier League era.
Not only did Suarez bring controversy to England in his own unique way, he also took the league by storm on the pitch, and made Premier League football look easy. In a deadly trio of Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling, the ex-Ajax man was the first player to carry the Liverpool team to the same extent as Gerrard had been doing for so long.
The EPL has now seen top players such as Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale (to name but a few) make the trip to La Liga, and each has been sorely missed due to the amount of goals, skill and excitement that they provided; it is no secret that the fans would love to have any one of them back in the league. However, Suarez has left a gap in the hearts of the public that they didn’t know existed.
Of course, now he is playing alongside Messi and Neymar, he is not running the team and therefore has his critics, but his desire to succeed and to better himself endears him to the spectators around the world. The key point to make is that everybody, not just Liverpool fans, wanted to see what magic Suarez had cooked up for Match of the Day week in, week out. We have seen Sanchez, Hazard and Yaya Toure all try to emulate Suarez’s dominance this year but despite their outrageous ability, none have come close.
Liverpool have not been able to replace Suarez since his departure and nor, unfortunately, has the Premier League.